More than 50 years after it started, Star Trek is still on the air with Discovery being the most recent incarnation. When you have been consistently producing new content for the same franchise for this amount of time, things are bound to get weird every now and then. Because we love Star Trek, and we love to categorize things, we decided to take a look at the times where the final frontier got a little creepy.
It might be because the atmosphere was scary, or maybe the on-screen situation was uncomfortable, but there are definitely a bunch of scenes in the history of Star Trek where things went… someplace we didn't want to go.
One thing we did notice while researching this article is that some series are more represented than others. For starters, it looks like Deep Space Nine wasn’t all that creepy. Sure, it was dark, but most of the later part of its run had to do with war, shady characters, and the moral decisions they had to make. It was super serious, but only had a few instances of creepy scenarios. On the other hand, The Next Generation and Voyager seemed to be bursting with creepy ideas from its writers. It doesn’t matter if it was good or bad, these definitely left a lasting impression on viewers.
So take a deep breath, because we are about to take a closer look at all the ways that Star Trek made us shiver over the years.
25 The Halloween Special
Unlike most shows that take place in our current time, Star Trek has never been bound by the different specials that most television series have to go through when a real-life Holiday is in the way. After all, who knows if we will actually be celebrating Christmas or Thanksgiving in the future? The Original Series took a chance with what was basically a Halloween episode, airing a few days before the celebration. In Catspaw, the crew goes into a weird castle on an alien planet and meets aliens that take human forms and will sometimes look like black cats if they feel that it is somehow scarier. On top of everything, we have Sulu and Scotty acting like almost-zombies, something which adds to the horror movie atmosphere of the episode.
24 Data’s Dreams
The premise of Phantasms, a late TNG episode, relies on one crazy coincidence. Data has been experimenting with a new program which allows him to dream, just at the same time as an invisible organism is eating the crew’s body cells. It’s a stretch even by Star Trek standards, but my hat goes off to the rest of the episode. It’s a hall of fame of creepy scenes: Data’s dreams produce such classics as Beverly Crusher drinking Riker’s brain with a straw, while the Commander looks totally disinterested in his own fate. We also get Troi laying on a table, her body turned into a cake being consumed with much delight by Worf. It has mint frosting, which happens to be his favorite. The only thread keeping all of these images together is a bunch of old-time miners taking the ship apart which can be seen in most dream sequences.
23 Too Close To The Ghost
The unfortunately famous TNG episode titled Sub Rosa features one truly creepy scene, but first, some context. After her grandmother’s passing, Beverly Crusher decides to stay behind on the colony her grandma inhabited to become a traditional healer or something. Why? Because she’s basically under the control of a ghost (or an entity which exists in a different phase, because it’s Star Trek) which used to be her grandmother’s lover. The creepy scene in question comes when Beverly basically abandons herself to the ghost and things become PG-13 in a hurry. In one way, it is incredibly creepy to see Beverly engage in this kind of relationship with a ghost. On the other hand, it’s one heck of an acting tour de force by Gates McFadden.
22 Two For One
If you have ever seen The Next Generation episode Skin Of Evil, you know that it carries a two for one of creepiness. If we start with the lesser issue on the scale, there is Commander Riker who gets swallowed whole into a pit of tar-like substance by a creature which is nothing but an evil puddle of black goo. Fun fact: the goo was a mix of printer ink and Metamucil, which must have been super fun for Jonathan Frakes to try and remove from his various orifices after the facts. The second creepy scene of the episode is the demise of Tasha Yar. The show was less than a year old at this point, and the casual way with which the creature disposes of Yar is enough to make you question the meaning of life.
21 Clowns And I Don't Mix
If you have a thing against clowns (like most sane people do), then the TNG episode Cost Of Living is one of your worst nightmares come true. Despite a premise where Lwaxana Troi is only supposed to try and teach Worf’s son Alexander how to have fun, we are treated to some of the creepiest creatures in The Next Generation.
On the Holodeck, the duo comes face to face with the Wind Dancer.
It sounds cool, but it is just a fancy phrase to describe the disembodied head of the mix between a colourful mime and a clown. Lwaxana’s idea of a fun time also includes sad acrobats, hairy dudes in mud baths and mute dancers. Lwaxana’s vision of a relaxed evening is awfully close to my vision of a sleepless night.
20 Where’s My Mind?
I am not even sure how I can properly describe this one. In Frame of Mind, good old Commander Riker is part of a play organized by Beverly Crusher. Somewhere along the way, he also goes on a mission to infiltrate an alien planet, and that’s where things get mixed up. Sometimes he is in the play, but not really, which means he is in a mental hospital for real, but it’s all a conspiracy by the aliens, but maybe Enterprise never really existed? Riker spends most of the episode in a prison with other equally delusional people, and for most of the time, we are almost convinced he might actually have caused a man’s premature passing. It is uncomfortable, it makes you question what’s real, but the creepiest part is that the episode makes it a possibility that all seven seasons of TNG entirely take place within Riker’s mind.
19 The Absolute First
Most casual Star Trek fans might think of William Shatner and his legendary Captain Kirk when they think of The Original Series. The truth is that Bill wasn’t even going to be a part of the project when it started. Captain Pike is the Enterprise’s Captain during the pilot episode The Cage, a story which leans heavily on the creepy factor instead of standard sci-fi fare.
For one, the episode’s alien threat (and their bulging head veins) can read their victims’ mind and project images into their brain.
This is the cause for the episode’s reveal: the poor girl sent by the aliens to lure Pike into their trap almost perished in a ship crash but was put back together by aliens that had never seen a human being before. As such, her real appearance is as unnatural and ghastly as early 60’s makeup will allow.
18 The Takeover
The first season of The Next Generation was a little underwhelming when compared to the rest of its run. However, we can still salute the bigger ideas attempted by the writers, one of which was particularly high-concept, but which did not lead anywhere. Several clues were dropped near the end of the season that the Federation might be in danger, possibly from an outside force infiltrating the chain of command. This culminated with the episode Conspiracy, where we finally learn that parasites have taken over several high-ranking officers.
Riker has to pretend to eat bugs just to pass as one of them, but it’s the messy demise of the top alien representative which left a mark.
One phaser blast to the human host exposes the grotesque alien dwelling within, and one final shot vaporizes what’s left of it. For one scene, it was Twilight Zone more than Star Trek.
Deep Space Nine did venture into creepy territories a few times. Empok Nor places the elite team of Chief O’Brien, Garak, Nog, and a bunch of Federation people we have never heard of before or since, on an abandoned Cardassian space station eerily similar to Deep Space Nine. Unbeknownst to the squad, a bunch of extremely dangerous Cardassian soldiers were in stasis on the station and were inadvertently activated by their arrival.
Even worse, Garak seems to be affected by the station and turns on his team.
The remaining Federation crew must hide and hope that help will come, as they are slowly being eliminated one by one. The episode is an agile mix between a psychological thriller and a slasher film. Think of the generally uncomfortable atmosphere of the first two films in the Alien series, and you’re getting close in terms of the episode’s feel.
16 Bugs Are The Worst
I have no idea how the science behind all of it is supposed to work, but the Voyager episode Macrocosm suggests that viruses could eventually evolve to become visible to the naked eye, eventually getting as big as an adult human being. That’s all right, but the creepy part is that those viruses decide to take on the shape of mosquitos who transmit themselves by biting their victims. The poor saps then grow abscesses on the site of the bite, and these eventually burst, releasing more viruses-as-mosquitos. The fact that these creatures hunt down the crew is bad enough, but whenever they burst out of a sick crew member’s head or neck, like millions of tiny Xenomorphs, I almost lose my lunch.
15 Lost In Space
We won’t spend too much time on the fact that the crew of the Equinox is actually responsible for the entire debacle, and we will instead focus on the sequences spread out over this two-parter. In Equinox, the crew of Voyager has to protect themselves from dangerous creatures that appear in our realm only for a few seconds at a time.
A single touch from one of these aliens is enough to basically turn a victim into a dried up husk.
If the image is not evocative enough, think of a mix between the victims in The Ring and the bad guy at the end of The Last Crusade once he drank from the wrong cup. These aliens are lethal, vengeful, and more importantly, they never give up. The way they hunt is creepy enough, but the sense of hopelessness permeating the first part is unlike anything else on Voyager.
14 The Haunting
This is a case where the entire episode could be considered, as there isn’t a single scene that makes it freaky. Instead, it’s the general atmosphere permeating The Haunting of Deck 12 that makes it spooky. During a planned power outage on Voyager, Neelix has to take care of the Borg kids. He does so by telling them a scary story in the style of a campfire tale. What he’s saying is at times disturbing, but we are never quite sure if what he is saying is real. It’s only at the end, once the kids are put back to sleep, that we learn the truth: The entity which, in his story, took over the ship and tried to get rid of the crew, was traveling with them this whole time.
13 Use Your Brain
The creepy factor in Dead Stop, from the second season of Enterprise, comes from the design of the repair station. Enterprise had to stop there after a particularly damaging encounter with a Romulan mine, and things at first seem perfect, maybe even too much. Captain Archer is suspicious, especially after he learns that the completely automatic station has scanned the ship, its database, and the whole crew before starting repairs.
There’s a sense that the crew is constantly under surveillance, and that something cannot be this flawless without hiding a secret.
As it turns out, the problem is that the station’s computer core runs on actual humanoid brains, and it decided that it wants to add Mayweather to its collection. The reveal of the station’s core, with unconscious bodies getting their brain probed by tubes and wires, is one of Enterprise’s most unsettling set piece.
Can we all agree that spider webs are creepy? Even if you aren’t especially afraid of spiders, there’s nothing fun about minding your own business and walking straight into an unexpected spider web and being unable to get it out of your face. Now, what if there existed a creature made entirely of spider webs? That’s the nightmare that the Enterprise episode Vox Sola has imagined for us. They use the fact that the alien creature is so unlike anything else to explore language and communication, but I’m not buying it. The sentient web spends the whole hour taking over the ship, abducting crew members and wrapping them up in more and more web, all because it wants to be taken back to its planet. I was never in danger of becoming a fan of spiders anyway, but Vox Sola made a bad thing worse.
The crew of Enterprise is, as far as I can remember, the first Star Trek crew to meet with what are more or less classical zombies. In Impulse, they find a Vulcan ship which is not as abandoned as they thought it was. The Vulcans are still aboard, but have been transformed into mindless creatures by some sort of dangerous element they wanted to use to isolate their ship. We are then treated to all the classic of the genre:
Our heroes are pursued by the zombies, they have to fight them when necessary, and eventually one of their own gets turned.
In this case, it’s because T’Pol, Enterprise’s resident Vulcan, gets exposed to the unknown element before they can determine the cause of the epidemic. Surprisingly, the otherwise calm and composed T’Pol is quite effective as a zombie.
10 Problem In The Matrix
A staple of Voyager is The Doctor trying to improve himself somehow by changing his program, and things going awry from there. It’s often played for laughs, and only once did it really become sinister. In Darkling, The Doctor takes parts of the personalities from historic figures in order to enhance his own, but instead, all of the worst parts mix to create a sadistic alter ego. It’s that “new and improved” Doctor which pushes an innocent alien off a cliff, burns the hands of another one in a fire just to see what it’s like, and paralyzes Torres from the waist down so she can be tortured for information. He also has time to jump into an abyss with Kes before they were beamed back aboard Voyager. His program was reverted on the way, and he acts as if nothing happened, and the sudden switch might as well be the scariest part of the episode.
9 Just Don’t Think Too Hard About It
The Thaw is a little hard to explain, probably because I’m not even sure I understand it after two viewings. What’s important is that Michael McKean, famous for being a part of Spinal Tap, plays a scary clown who runs a computer simulation of a circus.
People are plugged into the simulation, and he keeps them scared for his own enjoyment.
Sometimes he gives them attacks, which sounds counterproductive if you are the incarnation of fear and you subsist off of living people’s minds. The circus itself is creepy enough to make it on this list, but the real kicker is the scenes where he turns his attention to Harry Kim: the poor ensign almost loses his head, and is eventually attached to a stretcher where he would have been cut, if it wasn’t for a timely save from The Doctor.
8 The Exorcism Of Keiko O’Brien
It has to be extremely unsettling to be married for a long time, only to wake up next to the same person one day and realize that something’s wrong. They still look the same, but their personality has changed so drastically that they have become a completely different person. That’s what poor Chief O’Brien has to go through in The Assignment when a Pah-Wraith takes over Keiko’s body. They do so to force O’Brien to destroy the wormhole, ending their feud with The Prophets. When Miles does not cooperate immediately, the Pah-Wraith (as Keiko) jumps off Deep Space Nine’s balcony, causing grievous injuries, and threatens to do the same to his daughter. Good obviously triumphs in the end, but seeing the Chief so helpless when his loved one is in danger is rough.
7 Fight For Your Dreams
The TNG episode Night Terrors has a pretty cool premise: the crew is stuck in a rift where some sort of telepathic power is stopping them from dreaming. The result is that everyone on the Enterprise starts hallucinating, and it’s up to Data (who does not sleep) and Troi (who can communicate with the other telepath) to save the day. The scenes where Troi is floating in a greenish cloud while dreaming is almost comical, but the episode gains back its creepy vibe with the help of Dr. Crusher’s hallucination:
While working in the morgue, alone, she imagines that the dozens of bodies surrounding her all sit up from their table at the same time.
Crusher is obviously scared and has to keep repeating herself that none of it is real. I had to keep doing the same just so I wouldn't need new underwear.
6 Aliens Probing
We sometimes hear about people who claim that they have been abducted by aliens in the middle of the night. The X-Files made a lot of money exploring that phenomenon. In the 24th century, however, you would think that this would have stopped, since the humans of Star Trek can actually communicate with aliens. Still, in Schisms, the cast of The Next Generation must face this old threat once more. The abductors are more violent this time around, and go way past simple probing. They do weird experiments on the crew, such as cutting body parts and reattaching them, or replacing a person’s blood with some kind of liquid plastic (the crewman obviously does not survive this one). The creepiest part is when Riker is semi-awake during the experiment and has to watch the aliens, who communicate in insect-like sounds, mutilate his crewmate on the next table over.
5 The Implications
In The Most Toys, Data is kidnapped by a collector who only sees him as a unique piece to display. We are reminded that Data has to obey him, since he is programmed with safety protocols that prevent him from harming people who are not immediate threats. Once the Collector disposes of his lover because she wanted to help the android escape, Date holds the bad guy at phaser point. At that moment, he gets saved via transporter, but the crewman notices that the phaser Data was holding has been fired, only the transporter disabled it. What does it mean?
The clear implication is that Data thought the Collector was now a threat and was ready to eliminate him.
What’s creepy is that when he is questioned about it, Data denies everything. So we now have an android, strong as ten humans, capable of taking a life if needed, and totally willing to lie about it to cover his back.
4 Stuck In Between
In Theory, as a whole episode, isn’t so bad in terms of creepiness. It is simply about the TNG crew venturing into a nebula without knowing what’s going to happen. Unfortunately, there are pockets in that nebula which alter the rules of physics as we know them, and that’s where things become unpleasant. At one point, the deck of the Enterprise loses its cohesion for a fleeting moment, which is enough for Lieutenant Van Mayter to fall through the floor. Things go back to normal a bit too fast, however, and when the floor becomes solid once more, the lieutenant is stuck between two decks, seemingly cut in half. When the crew discovers her, we are left with this lasting image: Van Mayter, frozen in an awkward position, seemingly unaware of what was happening to her.
3 Lifetime Achievement Award
An early foe in the run of Voyager, the Vidiians were defined by “The Phage”, a strange disease which afflicted the entire species, causing them to basically rot and fall apart as they grow older. Most of their screen time is generally off-putting, but the pinnacle of their creepiness comes in Faces. The episode sees a Vidiian scientist kidnap Torres to study the Klingon’s resistance to the Phage.
When he falls in love with her, he is afraid she will reject him because of his hideous appearance (his face is falling apart after all).
That’s why he abducts one of her crewmates, and then wears his face as a mask to look better. That’s something you would see in The Silence of the Lambs, so it truly leaves an impression in a show like Voyager.
2 Evolution Is A Mystery
In Genesis, the TNG-era crew of the Enterprise is caught in a peculiar problem. There’s a virus (or something like that) which has taken over most of the people on board and which has the bad habit of devolving everyone back into an earlier version of their species.
Humans are (mostly) turning back into apes, even though Reginald Barclay becomes a spider somehow (because he is the worst, probably).
The real creepy part of the episode comes when Worf, who became an early evolution of a Klingon, mercilessly hunts down the rest of the crew when he thinks that they are keeping Troi away from him. As for Troi, she has devolved into a fish in the middle of all this. So we end up with a scary venom-spewing Klingon in an exoskeleton hunting for his fish-lover. The episode couldn’t be creepier if it wanted.
1 Words To Remember
Sometimes, a simple sentence, when uttered with enough conviction, can be the creepiest thing ever. In Coda, a non-corporeal being is trying to somehow detach Janeway’s spirit from her body so he can feed off of her energy. He does so by making her believe that she has passed away, and then taking the appearance of her dad to convince her to cross to the other side. Thankfully, The Doctor and Chakotay are not ready to say goodbye yet, and the Voyager crew comes to the rescue to bring her back to life. The alien is obviously unhappy with this denouement, and before letting go of Janeway, he gives her a final warning:
“Sooner or later, you’re going to be here again, and you’re going to feed me for a long time.”
And I have not slept since then.